Even after suffering a stroke, Fetterman scored a decisive win over the TV star and celebrity doctor.
John Fetterman seemed to have so much against him in the race against Mehmet Oz.
Fetterman is still recovering from a stroke, and his performance in the race’s lone debate unnerved even some of his supporters. Plus, the environment seemed to favor Republicans, with high inflation, kitchen-table concerns, and gas prices on the minds of voters.
The celebrity doctor and outside groups spent heavily on the race and painted Fetterman as soft on crime and too liberal. Both sides and their backers spent absurd sums on TV ads, as any Pennsylvanian watching the World Series will attest. The Pennsylvania race saw $370 million, about $100 million more than any other contest, according to Open Secrets, which monitors campaign spending.
Yet Fetterman still won one of the nation’s most watched races decisively, potentially preserving Democrats’ chances of retaining the Senate. Fetterman won by more than 3 percentage points. Oz conceded to Fetterman Wednesday morning.
Here are some of the reasons why Fetterman is going to the U.S. Senate, and Oz could be going back to New Jersey.
Abortion rights. Fetterman campaigned heavily on protecting women and their right to choose. Oz drew criticism when he said in the debate, “I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.
Among those who viewed abortion as the top issue, Fetterman took more than three-quarters of the vote, according to CNN’s analysis of exit polls. Fetterman also won among women voters, CNN reported.
Likeability. Even with polls late in the race showing the candidates were virtually even, voters consistently showed they didn’t care for Oz, said Berwood Yost, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Opinion Research in Lancaster, Pa. In questions about who understands their concerns, Fetterman led Oz, 55% to 34%, according to an F&M poll.
Oz didn’t connect with voters and convince them that he understood their concerns.
“Dr. Oz is not particularly well-liked, in terms of his favorability rating,” Yost told Chief Healthcare Executive in an interview last week.
Philadelphia freedom. Fetterman won big in the City of Brotherly Love, which most expected in the heavily Democratic city. He took over 80% of the vote in Philadelphia.
But he also won big in the suburban counties around the city, even taking Bucks County, which is almost evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. Fetterman took each of the four counties surrounding Philly.
Long coat tails. Fetterman received a boost from fellow Democrat Josh Shapiro, who easily defeated Doug Mastriano in the governor’s race. Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, ran against an election denier who was very unpopular with Democrats and independents. Mastriano also made clear he opposed abortions in all circumstances.
Fetterman didn’t perform as well as Shapiro, but he did get some help
Lack of moderation. Oz spent much of the primary and the weeks afterward trying to burnish his bonafides with conservative voters, who were skeptical of him. He also focused on hammering Fetterman as too extreme and liberal.
In the final weeks, Oz leaned on his medical background and presented himself as a healer and would work to bring both sides together. But on the last weekend of the campaign, he took the stage with former President Donald Trump at a rally. Christopher Borick, a political analyst at Muhlenberg College, said appearing with Trump wouldn’t help him with moderate voters.
“Bringing Trump out front and center when you’ve tried to create a nuanced image with some distance from Trump, I find that questionable,” Borick said last week.
Strength with small donors. Both Fetterman and Oz raised big money, but Fetterman drew more support from small donors. From July through September, Fetterman raised more than half of his money from donors giving under $200, while Oz only received about a third of his funds from smaller contributions, WESA reported.
“Fetterman has been a fundraising machine,” Yost said. “He’s raised a lot of money from small donors. He’s far outpaced Oz that way, and even in rural counties, he’s outpaced Oz.” The small donors suggested Fetterman's broader appeal with voters.
Focusing everywhere. Throughout the campaign, Fetterman repeatedly said he was going after voters in every county, even very red counties. He didn’t win every county, or even most counties, but he did have success beyond Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Fetterman won in Erie County, a county Donald Trump won in 2016 and narrowly lost in 2020. Fetterman also won some counties in northeastern Pennsylvania.